At the start of the 2012 / 2013 season if anyone had said you will watch your club beat three Premier League sides and reach the Capital One Cup Final at Wembley (as a League Two side!) and reach the play-offs then I would of snapped their hands off and also told them to go seek medical advice. This really has been a season to remember, after a decade of dire football and depressing results this season has well and truly brought all that passion back and once again reminded me why I travel the motorways watching Bradford City – this season is why I love football, memories have been made that will never be forgotten.
The cup run didn’t quite have the fairy tale ending as Swansea City ran out easy 5-0 winners in the League Cup Final in February, however it wasn’t really about the result for Bradford the mere fact that The Bantams had even reached the final in the first place was an outstanding achievement one that in truth will probably never be repeated.
The journey the club and the fans have had this season has been immense, some of the best memories if not the best since I’ve been watching The Bantams have been made. I’ve seen promotions from Division Two via the play-offs, I’ve seen us finish runners-up in Division One and promoted to the Premier League. I witnessed staying in the top flight and our short adventure into the Intertoto Cup but for me this season has eclipsed all that has gone before because of the simple fact that a League Two club shouldn’t of achieved what Phil Parkinson’s men accomplished.
The win away at Wigan Athletic was amazing, personally I believe Bradford to be a bigger club than Wigan regardless of league standings. The fact we went to the DW Stadium and knocked them out on penalties was amazing. Next up Arsenal, with all their super stars in attendance I expected a heavy defeat whilst watching the likes of Cazorla and Wilshire ooze class, that didn’t happen and in my eyes Bradford were unlucky not to win the game in normal time having nullified Arsenal for long periods of the game.
For the first time in a long while Valley Parade was packed to the rafters, the atmosphere was electric bringing back memories of the premier league days. Garry Thompson volleyed home to send The Bantams faithful wild and it looked for so long that there was to be a giant killing only for Thomas Vermaelen to pop up late in the game to head home an equaliser. Extra time came and went with the superb Matt Duke denying Santi Cazorla before becoming a further cup hero by saving the penalties that sent Bradford into the Semi Final of the Capital One Cup.
The special moment of the cup run came against Aston Villa to knock out any premier league side is special but to do it over two legs it’s a remarkable feat. The late header by Carl McHugh in the first leg to send The Bantams to Villa Park with a 3-1 lead was in my view the pivotal moment of the tie. However the moment when James Hanson bulleted Gary Jones’s corner in at Villa Park for me is the best moment I’ve had watching City – against all odds a League Two side had made it to a major domestic cup final, and this wasn’t a fluke!
The squad which Phil Parkinson has put together will go down in history and every Bradford fan in years to come will be able to rattle their names off and be looked back on with fond memories whether it’s Rory McArdle’s header to send Bradford 2-0 against Villa, Thompson’s volley against Arsenal, Nahki Wells cool finish past Shay Given for the first against Villa or THAT Hanson header at Villa Park. These players whether at the beginning or end of their careers will never have a season like this ever again.
The final against Swansea was a special day, the sea of claret and amber waving flags and singing songs was special. The atmosphere was unbelievable, especially the last 20-30 minutes when The Bantams faithful decided to go full swing into having a party.
Had the league season just fizzled out after Wembley then that would have been extremely disappointing, but full credit must go to Phil Parkinson and his assistant Steve Parkin for masterminding the league form over the last couple of months. Saturday’s 1-0 win over Burton Albion at Valley Parade cemented The Bantams place at the play-off party for the first time since 1996 when we beat Notts County in the old Division Two. After 37 league games I had all but given up hope of reaching the play-offs sat in 12th place 10 points off 7th with a game in hand and a full 12 points behind Exeter who at the time sat 5th. Fast forward to the completion of round 45 and The Bantams had clinched a minimum return of 7th place pulling 4 points clear of Exeter in the process, who sadly for them and luckily for us have collapsed at completely the wrong time.
Now Bradford can travel to Cheltenham on the last day of the season, knowing it is highly likely the two teams will meet again the following week in the play-off semi finals. Barring a defeat for Rotherham at home to bottom side Aldershot coupled with a win for Cheltenham could see Mark Yates overtake The Millers, chances are that won’t happen so it will be a straight shoot-out between Bradford and Cheltenham for a place at Wembley.
If we make the play-off final and return to Wembley for a second time this season, I certainly won’t be going for a nice day out. I expected to lose to Swansea; personally my cup finals were against Arsenal and Aston Villa. However for a League Two play-off final I expect victory regardless of opposition we are good enough to secure promotion and hopefully in three weeks time we will be back in League One – and finally starting our journey back to where we believe we should be.
Once thing for sure is regardless of promotion the board need to secure the services of Phil Parkinson for the future. He’s out of contract in the summer, and has been linked with various clubs over the past few months. Parkinson has made it clear that he wants to stay but the longer negotiations drag on it opens the door for other clubs to nip in and steal him away for a snip due to him being the near the end of the contract.
Wembley twice in one season?! Let’s hope so……
Written by Mark Scully, We Are Going Up’s Bradford City Blogger
Mark tweets at @scully87